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Mama: Bio

When pop star turned potter Zoë Pollock and trad/folk innovator Sarah McQuaid both fetched up in rural west Cornwall after years of world rambling, the stage was set for a musical partnership whose unique sound defies any attempt at categorisation.

With Zoë supplying the melodic hooks and Sarah contributing lyrics and guitar licks, the pair have formed the new band Mama – they each have two children and literally met at the school gates!

Their debut CD, Crow Coyote Buffalo, fuses the diverse styles of the two women, Sarah’s trad/folk perspective meeting Zoë’s offbeat approach head-on. Recorded mostly at Sarah’s home in the countryside west of Penzance, with ace engineer Martin Stansbury at the controls, the album consists of ten songs co-written by the pair – plus, as a bonus track, Zoë’s recently released update of her 1991 hit single ‘Sunshine On A Rainy Day’.

The songs are idiosyncratic and beguiling, ranging from the upbeat ‘Fool Of Spring’ and ‘Dancing Girl’ to more meditative offerings like ‘Western’, with its mesmerising spoken-word interludes, and ‘The Lovers’, a hypnotic ode to Tarot card illustrator Pamela Colman Smith. ‘Kathakali Boy’ takes its inspiration from the classical dance drama tradition of Kerala, India, while ‘Aquí Me Pinté Yo’ pays tribute to Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

Comparisons have been drawn to the likes of The Doors and Crosby, Stills & Nash, and there are strong folk and jazz influences running through (not to mention cowgirl twangs, Eastern rhythms and Mariachi trumpets) ... but above all, these are songs that lodge firmly in the brain and stay there.

As her loyal fans already know, Zoë is blessed with a distinctive, powerful voice that’s only improved with maturity, and she’s an adept player of both guitar and ukelele. With the addition of inventive harmonies, countermelodies and instrumental flourishes from Sarah (who authored a highly regarded guitar tutor and has already found success on the folk scene as a solo performer), Mama is a force to be reckoned with.

Guesting on the album are Tiffany Bryant (flute) and Andy Jarvis (drums, percussion, trumpet, harmonium, accordion) – both members of the quirky offshore Cornish band Thistletown and now the prog-folk, psychedelic Rosemarie Band. Tiffany and Jarvis (only family members get to call him Andy!) joined Zoë and Sarah for the band’s debut performance at the St Ives September Festival on Friday, 12 September 2008, and Mama will continue to perform in both two-piece (Zoë and Sarah) and four-piece (Zoë and Sarah plus Tiffany and Jarvis) line-ups as logistics allow.

For individual biogs of Zoë and Sarah, see below.

Zoë Pollock - vocals, classical guitar, ukelele

In 1991, Peckham-born Zoë Pollock penned a song that stormed up the charts to reach the Top 5, cavorted on the Top Of The Pops stage and saw her debut single become a Brit-nominated classic.

‘Sunshine On A Rainy Day’ was a perfect example of pop at its infectious, catchy best, and became a massive club anthem. Produced by Martin “Youth” Glover, it reached No. 4 in the UK chart, sold a quarter of a million copies and hit the spot at discos across Europe, capturing a feelgood moment in time for those on the 90s dance floors.

Known simply as Zoë, the distinctive-voiced singer went on to record more singles and albums, working with artists as diverse as legendary guitarist Steve Hillage, revered Irish producer Donal Lunny and English band Morcheeba. However, not long after releasing her 1996 album Hammer she disappeared off the scene ... prompting, some years later, the inevitable websites asking “Whatever happened to Zoë”?

But the song was never going to lie down. It went on to be covered by Emma “Baby Spice” Bunton, supermodel Naomi Campbell and was a huge hit in Australia for Aboriginal singer Christina Anu.

Meanwhile Zoë had embarked on a world of new opportunity, living in India, Sicily, Ibiza, Brazil and the USA, becoming a talented sculptor and potter and studying herbal medicine and yoga – all the while continuing to write music and collaborating with other artists. Under the alias Hephzibah Broom, she released an EP on the Manchester underground folk label Red Deer Records.

The original free spirit, Zoë is now back in the UK, happily rooted near Land’s End in wild west Cornwall in a windswept cottage by the sea.

In 2008, Zoë finally reclaimed her landmark song. Recorded in the Chyglidden studio of Irish sculptor Tim Shaw near the small Cornish village of Mabe, the single features the same four-piece lineup as the ensuing album – Zoë, Sarah, Tiffany and Jarvis, all of whom also appear on the video version of the song, which was filmed by Stephen Jarvis in and around Falmouth, on the Cornish coast.

Without the pressures of record label agendas, the new ‘Sunshine’ reflects something of the personal and geographical journey she has taken in the intervening years. Acoustic, rootsy, ethereal and Eastern with additional, thoughtful lyrics and spoken musings, it’s a melodic melting pot of influences she has soaked up round the globe . The end result is a recognisable hit, skilfully and sensitively revamped and delivered by her characteristic haunting vocals.

Says Zoë: “I feel that it’s a new phase in my creative life. I feel very good about it. It’s not really a departure, it’s a continuation – and hopefully it will encourage some of my original audience to listen to the new album!”

Sarah McQuaid - vocals, steel-string guitar, Nord Electro keyboard

Madrid-born Sarah McQuaid, daughter of a Spanish father and an American mother, was raised in Chicago, studied philosophy in Strasbourg and spent many years in Ireland before pitching up in Cornwall in 2007.

In the autumn of 1997, she recorded her debut solo album, When Two Lovers Meet, featuring traditional tunes and songs along with one original number. Despite critical acclaim from The Irish Times, Folk Roots and The Rough Guide To Irish Music among other publications, a long break from the music scene followed, during which Sarah married Feargal Shiels (a talented artist whose lively charcoal drawing adorns the cover of Mama’s debut album) and had two children, Eli and Lily Jane.

When Two Lovers Meet was re-released in Ireland on 23 February 2007, with distribution and promotional support from Gael Linn Records. Sarah’s ensuing nationwide tour was highly successful, thanks in large part to a very well-received performance on The View, the acclaimed arts television show hosted by John Kelly on RTÉ1.

Later that year, the album had its first UK release, with distribution through Proper Records. The December 2007 edition of fRoots described it as “a masterclass in restraint and subtlety. Authoritative singing and quietly insistent arrangements make for a sumptuous whole – recommended.” Tracks from the album were included in FolkCast’s December 2007 “artists of the year” podcast and in Crooked Road host Mike Ganley’s Top Ten picks for 2007.

In October 2008, Sarah releases her striking new solo album I Won’t Go Home ’Til Morning. The long-awaited follow-up to her acclaimed debut marks a distinct change of focus: whereas her first album was a feast of Irish music, this one – dedicated to her mother, who died in 2003 – is an enchanting celebration of old-time Southern Appalachian folk, with Sarah’s arrangements punctuated by her own fine compositions and a cover of Bobbie Gentry’s classic ‘Ode to Billie Joe’.

Author of a respected guitar tutor on the Irish DADGAD open tuning, Sarah is also a skilled and inventive acoustic guitarist – illustrated to good effect on the instrumental track ‘Shady Grove/Cluck Old Hen’. She lists Dick Gaughan, John Renbourn and Bert Jansch among guitarists she most admires.

Like its predecessor, I Won’t Go Home ’Til Morning was recorded in Trevor Hutchinson’s Dublin studio and produced by Gerry O’Beirne. Both also guest on the album, alongside percussionist Liam Bradley, Máire Breatnach on fiddle and viola and Rosie Shipley on fiddle.

While continuing to perform as a solo artist, Sarah is thrilled to be working with Zoë and looks forward to touring with the new band. “It’s been a really exciting project for me,” she explains, “because it’s a completely different style of music to what I’ve been doing. Zoë has really opened my eyes to the possibilities of songwriting, and especially to what two strong singers can do together. We’re just creating the music that we want to create, without worrying too much about markets or categories, and we can’t wait to get going on the next album!”